The Effects of Survey Fatigue (and 11 Ways to Combat It)

/ 14 min read
Eliza Frakes

Most companies use some version of customer feedback surveys to track customer satisfaction and ensure they're providing a great overall customer experience.

It’s a great idea—surveys can help you improve your business, understand your market, and even boost customer loyalty. But, when you survey your customers too much, you run the risk of losing them to survey fatigue.

In this guide, we'll cover what survey fatigue is and how you can avoid afflicting your customers with it. By doing so you'll keep your relationship strong, that churn rate low, and gather better responses from your surveys.

What is Survey Fatigue?

Survey fatigue is a form of exhaustion and frustration that sets in when a business sends too many surveys to their audience. Most of us have experience this in some way (particularly the online shoppers among us.)

If you've ever found your email inbox bombarded with survey requests and felt the urge to throw your phone across the room, you know how frustrating survey fatigue can be.

Like you, your customers are busy, active people who are subscribed to a million online services that promise to make their busy lives easier. So when companies start inundating them with online surveys 24/7, it’s no surprise that they get annoyed. Fast.

To understand survey fatigue, we need to understand two things: the main types of surveys, and the main types of survey fatigue.

Which Surveys Cause Fatigue?

The truth is that any survey type can cause fatigue when used incorrectly, but there are three popular kinds of surveys that tend to be the main culprits: Net Promoter Score, Customer Effort Score and Customer Satisfaction surveys. Each of these surveys involve companies asking customers for feedback in varying forms (requiring at least a modicum of effort).  

  • Net Promoter Score (NPS): is used to gauge customers enthusiasm and loyalty about a business or product. In order to do this, the business will ask some version of “how likely are you to recommend this product/business to a friend?” and request a response on a likert scale, or a scale from 1-10.

  • Customer Effort Score (CES): measures how difficult it was for a customer to complete a task or transaction. It’s usually calculated using a likert scale (1-10) but it can also be asked as an open feedback question.

  • Customer Satisfaction Surveys (CSAT): are perhaps the most popular in the business and ecommerce world. A CSAT poll asks the simple question “how happy are you with your recent purchase and/or experience?” CSAT’s can be answered using a scale or via open feedback.

The Types of Survey Fatigue

The two types of survey fatigue are survey taking fatigue and survey request fatigue. Survey taking fatigue has to do with the number of surveys you take per day, while survey request fatigue has to do with the number of requests for surveys you get from different companies.

Survey Request Fatigue

Survey request fatigue is when you’re in the middle of your kid's soccer practice and your email is blowing up with survey requests. You've got 10 companies begging you to take surveys for them, but don't want to take any of them because you're tired of being asked.

This can happen via email (like at the soccer game) or while web browsing (think of all those survey pop-ups that come through as you're trying to check out at your favorite online store).

💡 Tip for Businesses: While asking your customers how they feel about a product or process is important, asking too many times—or asking at inopportune times—is a sure-fire way to cause survey fatigue.

Survey Taking Fatigue

Survey taking fatigue is the feeling of frustration you get after taking a survey. You've spent the past 20 minutes answering questions about your shopping habits or what type of dog you like best, and when it's finally over, you're left with a bad taste in your mouth.

Survey Taking Fatigue is caused by three things:

  1. Questions that are uninteresting or overly personal
  2. Surveys being way too long
  3. Placing unrealistic expectations on customers

The Effects of Survey Fatigue for your Business

Survey Fatigue is an epidemic among online survey takers. Here are a few gnarly ways it impacts your business:

Lower response rate

Lower survey response rates happen when your customers either don’t start your survey at all, or abandon it halfway through. When your response rate is too low, surveys lose their effectiveness because you don’t have enough information to get an accurate read on whatever survey data you're trying to collect.

Not only are you not gathering enough data, you may actually be gathering incorrect data because only a handful of respondents are contributing.

When your customers experience survey fatigue, they are less likely to complete your customer feedback forms. And who can blame them—with the amount of surveys people are asked to complete, yours has to really stand out in order for someone to fill it out.

Skewed results

Survey Fatigue can alter the data you receive in two main ways:

  • By causing people to abandon your form out of frustration
  • By skewing their responses to the negative

Let’s say you’re requesting feedback from your customers about your online check-out process. If your survey is too long, you might lose half of your respondents to survey response fatigue before the form is complete.

If only half of your customers complete your poll, you have no idea what’s going on with 50% of users. This can seriously affect your data quality.

Similarly, if you ask customers 30 times to rate how happy they are with your user experience, by the 25th time they might be over it—and drop their rating.

Survey results will appear more negative than they might truly be just because your respondents are fed up with the process.

Wasted time and money

Designing customer surveys can be both time consuming and expensive. Whether you do it yourself or outsource to someone else, you’re putting resources into the process on the promise that it will give you valuable feedback.

So when you don’t get that valuable feedback because your respondents can’t bring themselves to fill out another form, you’re losing time and money.

Whether you’re not getting enough feedback, or the data you’re getting is skewed, gathering information from exhausted respondents won’t give you the insights you're looking for.

And since compensating for response bias will only take more time and money, it’s best to try and avoid the situation in the first place.

Damage to your brand

Survey Fatigue makes people grouchy, and grouchy people don’t leave rave reviews. Oftentimes, this isn’t a business owner's fault, it’s just an unfortunate result of an over-surveyed population.

Take the last time you were too hungry and got snippy with a friend or colleague. It almost certainly wasn’t their fault—they just got caught in the crossfire. A similar thing can happen to your brand perceptions when your customers are too exhausted.

Even if they love your product, over surveying your customers can leave a bad taste in their mouth, making them less likely to leave a great review, or recommend you to a friend.

A loss of customers

When your respondents feel bothered by surveys, they’re less likely to return to your business. A frustrated customer is never good. They might even leave your site mid-visit, just to get away from the pop up requests to fill out forms.

An example of a pop-up survey in an article about pop-up surveys on Hotjar(Image Source: Hotjar)

Losing customers to survey fatigue is a tragic type of irony, since, even with the best of intentions, poor survey etiquette can turn customers away. When in doubt, consider what would annoy you if you were in their shoes, and avoid doing that.

12 Strategies To Avoid Survey Fatigue

Too many surveys and you run the risk of driving customers away; too few and you won't have enough data for any useful results. So how do you get the information you need and avoid survey fatigue?

Truthfully, like gymnastics or Jenga, it's all about balance. Here are some methods that you can use to avoid survey fatigue, and help you collect the data you need to grow your business, all while keeping your customers happy.

1. Make taking your surveys easy

If you’re going to follow one rule from this article, make it this. The best thing you can do to combat respondent fatigue is to make surveys that are easy to navigate and complete.

People are busy. Their time is valuable. (Just think of the last time you had a free half-hour to complete a thorough customer survey for an Etsy shop you visited. It’s probably been a while.)

Keep questions short, choose words that are simple to understand, and ask only what is strictly necessary for you to get the data you need. Make sure the questions are laid out in logical order—don't jump between topics or ideas.

💡 Tip: Remember to avoid using industry jargon, acronyms or technical terms that most people don't understand. Plain languages helps with comprehension, which helps keep people from getting exhausted.

2. Respect your respondents' time

According to a study published in General Psychiatry, the human attention span is now no longer than 20 minutes (thanks Instagram, Netflix and YouTube).

Keeping your survey length short is imperative. Customers are far more likely to fill out your survey if it’s short (response rates plummet for surveys more than 12 minutes long). As a rule of thumb, the longer your survey is, the more respondents will abandon it.

This goes for individual questions too. Use multiple choice questions wherever you can. Any question that lets a customer click a default option, rather than type one out, requires less effort, and is therefor more likely to be answered.

3. Write clearly

Your respondents are smart people with busy lives. Do them the favor of speaking clearly and directly, rather than confusing them with long surveys full of flowery language. Save that for your novel.

The clearer your survey is, the less exhausting it will be to fill out.

Use open-ended questions sparingly (questions like “how was your experience?” or “what do you think about this product?”). These are often vague, and require more effort for customers to answer.

If you're going to request written feedback, keep questions specific. For example, ask “how difficult did you find the payment process on a scale of 1-10?” rather than “how was the checkout process?”

4. Express the value of your survey

A good survey is one that has a clear and valuable purpose. Many customers feel like they're being asked too many questions just for the sake of it. Communicating the value of your survey shows customers that you're asking these questions for a reason.

Let’s say you recently bought a mug online, but it came in the wrong color. When it comes time to offer customer feedback, you'd most likely be more willing to answer a survey that said, "sorry for the mix up—please let us know about your experience so we can prevent this from happening again in future."  

Make sure customers know why you're asking a particular question, and how their answers will benefit them. This shows that you value their opinion and gives them confidence in the validity of your survey.

💡 Tip: Implementing feedback also shows customers that you're not just paying lip service to their concerns. Not only will this have a positive effect on their perception of your brand, and boost brand loyalty, it'll make them far more likely to continue filling your surveys out.

5. Send surveys at the right time

It’s important to send out your surveys soon after a purchase or experience that you’d like to get feedback about, but not during. Surveying customers while they shop is distracting (and annoying) and can lead to shopping cart abandonment.

Requesting feedback soon after a sales experience ensures that your customers have their thoughts fresh in their mind. It also combats survey respondent fatigue by avoiding the need for intrusive pop-ups.

The timing of your survey should be directly related to the kind of feedback you’re looking to receive. For example, if you’re looking for a customer's response to a pair of shoes they just bought, it would be best to send out a survey request a few days after the shoes arrive, so they have enough time to form an opinion, but not so much that they've forgotten about the purchase altogether.

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6. Ask the right questions

No matter what type of survey you run, it's crucial to pick questions that'll help you get the data you need. For example, an open-ended customer satisfaction survey is great for unique, specific feedback, whereas a Likert Scale can give you more quantitative, measurable results.

This is because CSAT’s require written responses, which are more time consuming than scaled questions. Luckily, with Paperform, you can create surveys that allow for a combination of closed and open-ended questions, allowing you to have your cake and survey it too.

💡 Tip: Try to mix up your survey questions so they don't all fall into the same category. For example, if you ask three questions about satisfaction, try to balance them out with some demographic questions, some open-ended questions and a few multiple choice ones.

7. Ask one question at a time

When you do decide to open up a customer feedback form, the last thing you want to see is one monster of a survey staring back at you. Scrolling through page after page in a questionnaire can create survey fatigue before people have even started.

Instead, try to keep the number of questions to a minimum, and consider asking one question at a time using Paperform's Guided Mode. You can design your form to progress question-by-question, resulting in a more conversational and intuitive experience for customers—particularly on mobile devices.

8. Use a progress bar

Adding a progress bar to your form is a great way to communicate to your respondents how long it'll take to complete a survey. This allows you to boost response rates by making your surveys more transparent and engaging.

An example of a progress bar using Paperform(Image Source: Paperform)

Without a progress bar respondents might be a question away from completing a survey, but abandon it because they can't see their progress. In contrast, if you include a progress bar as part of your survey design, they can see how long is left and make an informed decision on whether to push through and complete it or not.  

A progress bar can also serve as a motivator. Like a runner who can see the finish line ahead of them, respondents are more likely to push through to the end of a survey if they know it’s only a few questions away.

9. Use incentives

The data you collect from your customer surveys gives you specific, actionable feedback that directly influences how you run your business. It can show you which direction to steer your product development, how easy your website is to navigate, or which of your products are the most valuable.

It’s only fair to reward your customers for giving you that information. Adding incentives for completing your surveys is a great way to boost your response rate and combat respondent fatigue.

Just because you’re a grown up doesn’t mean you don’t want prizes, right? You may no longer get a lollipop after going to the doctors, but you could get gift cards, raffle entries, or special discounts after filling out a customer feedback form.

Offering perks to those customers who share feedback, (especially more laborious written responses) is an excellent, low impact way to say thanks. Plus, it’s fun. And if there’s one thing customer feedback surveys could do with more of, it’s a sense of fun. Speaking of...

10. Make your surveys fun

Answering a survey doesn’t have to be a dreaded experience. Paperform has over 600 templates to choose from, all of which are fully customizable in our advanced and intuitive editor. Plus, with our native integration with Unsplash and Giphy, you can add some flair to your forms with images, videos and GIFs, all with just a few clicks in the editor.

We give you the advanced tools you need to build beautiful, functional forms, and let your imagination do the rest.

With Paperform, you can customize every aspect of your feedback forms to match your brand, from the first letter of the first question to the final submit button. You can even customize your thank you page, or use answer piping to automatically send personalised thanks to customers for completing the survey.

11. Personalise surveys to different audience segments

Every customer is unique, and if you make them feel recognized, they are more likely to give great feedback. Personalising surveys to different segments is a great way to increase your chances of survey completion, and target questions to certain parts of your customer base.

One simple way to do this is by using conditional logic, which allows you to build surveys that adjust dynamically based on a person's previous answer. This makes the survey more intuitive to fill out, while also personalising it to each individual.

Paperform's conditional logic feature is just one way we make advanced features sleek and seamless. You can set up conditional logic in any of your forms using easy to understand if, then statements. The resulting question backed with power, but still looks cool as a cucumber.

Over to You

Survey fatigue is a real problem for businesses, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to combat it. The most important thing is to be smart about the way you distribute surveys within your business, and to make sure you don’t overdo it.

You can combat survey fatigue of all kinds by limiting the amount of survey requests you send, incentivising customers to answer your surveys, and keeping your questions clear, concise, personalized, and well-designed.

You can check all of these boxes and more with Paperform. Why not see for yourself with our 14-day free trial? There's no credit card required, so you can try it out with no obligations.

FAQs

📌 Survey Fatigue FAQs

What causes survey fatigue?
Survey fatigue occurs when your audience is bored or frustrated, either by the sheer number of times they're asked to complete one, or by the length of an individual survey.

Why are companies obsessed with surveys?
Companies are so obsessed with surveys because it helps them acquire important data and customer feedback they can use to improve their products and services.

What is the ideal survey length?
A study published in SAGE Journals concluded that the "ideal survey length is a median of 10 minutes and that the maximum survey length is 20 minutes."


About the author
Eliza Frakes
Content Writer
Eliza Frakes is a content writer at Paperform. When she’s not writing for the blog, she’s probably writing a play (or acting in one), swimming in the ocean, or taking her very cute dog on a hike.

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